In what's supposedly the last film of his career, Saraband, director Ingmar Bergman reunites the central characters of his earlier work, 1973's Scenes From a Marriage. The return of Scenes' actors to their characters (Liv Ullman as Marianne, Erland Josephson as Johan) adds to Saraband's sense of closure. And appropriately enough, Saraband's autobiographical elements are appropriate for someone born in 1918--clearly and understandably, the 87-year-old Bergman is reflective of his past.
But without a pre-existing "He can do no wrong" attitude toward Bergman--and his heavy dramatic tone--Saraband is dull, replete with loftily cultured assholes bearing grudges through their unhappy lives. Marianne is the only warm character--and her whimsical decision to drop in on ex-husband Johan (in his expansive country estate) uses up that charm pretty quickly.
Johan is by turns amusing and obtuse, with much of his disinterest directed toward his astonishingly unwanted son, Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt). Henrik, in turn, is a revolting, fat, blustering cello player who keeps his 19-year-old protégé of a daughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius), sequestered in a cabin on the estate. Interestingly, Bergman uses a photograph of his own lost wife to stand in for Anna, Karin's mother--the death of whom is the crux of Henrik's problems. In doing so, Bergman aligns himself with the most distasteful of his characters, indicating the film is born of--and helmed by--a self-identified, depressed, disgusting force.
Henrik's daughter, Karin--and her struggle to become independent of her overly passionate father--is top-heavy with drama. Unfortunately, Karin's so infuriatingly petulant, whinily unlikable, and hysterically tragic that it's hard to root for her escape (other than to hope that she'll stop being in the film altogether).
This type of film requires a certain amount of masochism--its ruminations are sour and sad and are delivered in a tone that seems to be the effect of self-imposed, privileged isolation. Regardless, truths are here--though they're delivered hideously, they show that sometimes the worst in human nature resides in beauteous surroundings.